Well done overall. A pleasurable, complex read that runs a touch long—and, as Giltrow reminds us, “It is all about distance.”



A literate though gritty thriller by Oxford-based mysterian Giltrow.

Who guards the guards while they’re guarding the rest of us? So asked the Roman poet Juvenal. Giltrow offers a wrinkle: If the guards are criminals to begin with, top dogs in a “self-regulating society made up of other criminals,” then who are the criminals, and why bother guarding them? No matter: She ably imagines a near-future republic of miscreants that exists alongside our own. The Program, as it’s called, is impregnable—supposedly. Populated by the dregs of society—supposedly—it allows no entry or exit. That’s before elegant socialite Charlotte Alton goes all Batman, of course, and in her alter ego as the tough sociopath Karla, helps insinuate the even tougher sniper and spook-on-the-run Simon Johanssen into a place run by an archfiend who’s tougher still, a “professional criminal, gangster, murderer” who wants Simon dead. Now, why would Simon, who certainly takes his lumps in this tale, want to go to such an uninviting place? Apparently, because some sniper justice needs to be visited on a woman who has done Very Bad Things, a sentiment that seems to be widely shared. But hasn’t everyone in The Program done such VBTs? Well, there’s the question. The cat and mouse that ensues is satisfying though not without flaws: Giltrow’s characters can’t stop gabbing, the narrative suffers from occasional patches of overwriting (“But my brain won’t let me sleep: I lie there while the thoughts tick in my head, metronomic, insistent, like the drip of a tap”), and it stretches credulity and patience for everyone in the story to nurse a secret-life back story. Still, Giltrow’s villains are just right (who doesn’t hate medical insurers, for one thing?), and the worldbuilding she does in imagining The Program to begin with is worthy of a well-made sci-fi yarn, pushing genre bounds in interesting ways.

Well done overall. A pleasurable, complex read that runs a touch long—and, as Giltrow reminds us, “It is all about distance.”

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-53699-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.


Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.


Ninth in the author’s Gray Man series (Mission Critical, 2019, etc.) in which “the most elite assassin in the world” has his hands full.

Ex–CIA Agent Courtland Gentry (the Gray Man) has Serbian war criminal Ratko Babic in his gun sight, but when he decides instead to kill the old beast face to face, he uncovers a massive sex-slavery ring. “I don’t get off on this,” the Gray Man lies to the reader as he stabs a sentry. “I only kill bad people.” Of course he does. If there weren’t an endless supply of them to slay, he’d have little reason to live. Now, countless young Eastern European women are being lured into sexual slavery and fed into an international pipeline, sold worldwide through “the Consortium.” Bad guys refer to their captives as products, not people. They are “merchandise,” but their plight haunts the Gray Man, so of course he is going to rescue as many women as he can. The road to their salvation will be paved with the dead as he enlists a team of fighters to strike the enemy, which includes a South African dude who is giddy for the chance to meet and kill the Gray Man. Meanwhile, Europol analyst Talyssa Corbu meets the hero while on a personal mission to rescue her sister. “You don’t seem like a psychopath,” she tells him. Indeed, though he could play one on TV. Corbu and her sister are tough and likable characters while the director of the Consortium leads a double life as family man and flesh merchant. Human trafficking is an enormous real-life problem, so it’s satisfying to witness our larger-than-life protagonist put his combat skills to good use. There will be a sequel, of course. As a friend tells the wounded Gentry at the end, he’ll be off killing bozos again before he knows it.

Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09891-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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